One of the many fascinating things about Israel is its multiculturalism and its diverse population. It does not have a specific race or ethnicity of people as citizens but rather an interesting background of different cultures. Israel is made up of Arab Israelis, Jews with roots from North Africa, Eastern Europe, western Asia, North and South America, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia.
On Sunday, my fellow Tikkun Olam participants and I, along with the Gap and MITF participants went to Kiryat Gat which is a city about an hour south of Tel Aviv to visit the Israeli Ethiopian center called Atachlit. The center is modeled on an Ethiopian village with mud huts and a farm that the elders of the community help to preserve. This gives them something purposeful to do whilst connecting them back to the country and especially the agricultural way of life that they had left many years ago. It is also a heritage center put in place to preserve and give information about Ethiopian Jewish culture. When we arrived, our hosts gave us a little background on the Beta Israel Ethiopian community. We were then served Buna, a delicious Ethiopian coffee and fresh bread. We also learned how to prepare mud for building mud houses and actually got to see it in action when we took part in a mud building exercise for one of the mud houses.
I got to learn so much about the Ethiopian culture and traditions of which I could find some traces of similarities with my own culture; for example the respect given to the elders and the politeness and warmth that is afforded to guests.
We also got to hear from one of the elders about her personal Aliya journey from Ethiopia to Israel on foot, which she embarked on with her family and community when she was six years old. We heard about the difficulties they encountered and also her cultural shock, coming from a village in Ethiopia then to Israel. Through questions and answer we got to learn about her integration in the Israeli society and the segregation she faced then. She told us about Sigd, which is a unique holiday celebrated by the community and officially made into a national holiday by the Israeli government in 2008.
To think that the Beta Israel (‘House of Israel’ another name for the Ethiopian Jewish community) might not have made it to Israel because some part of the Rabbinate thought that they were not ‘Jewish enough’ and hesitated to accept them, makes me think of my own community in Mbale which has had its own share of issues of acceptance by the interior ministry (keeping in mind that both communities have different backgrounds and my community has never sought to make Aliyah as a whole only on an individual basis). It was a milestone that the Jewish Agency officially did recognize us in 2009.
All the months that I have been here in Israel, I have greatly enjoyed all the wonderful things the Ethiopian culture has to offer. For example, my time living on Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev, I got to meet and make wonderful Israeli Ethiopian friends. I love the music and I especially enjoyed dancing the Eskista dance to the song, Feta Feta by Behailu Bayou which involves intense shoulder movements. Recently, my friends from the program and I went to Tenat, a great Ethiopian restaurant located on Chlenov and had Injera, a delicious Ethiopian dish. It is such a great experience having a taste of all these cultures, enjoying all that they have to offer but also being able to analyse and discuss the challenges that minority groups face here as well as suggest ways of transformation.
Sarah Nabaggala, a 26 year old law graduate from Mbale Uganda, is a participant on Tikkun Olam post college program. Each week Sarah will be writing a blog sharing her experiences of what it is like living in Jaffa, volunteering with asylum seekers, refugees and the homeless as well as studying at BINA.